Harriette Lovelace has an unusual compliment for Doctors Hospital: She likes the chow.
"The food is very good," said Mrs. Lovelace, 81, who was at Doctors recently recovering from surgery to repair a hip fracture.
"I never get complaints about the food, and that's always surprised me," said H. Dean Beasley, director of the physical rehabilitation center at Doctors.
Food service, however, wasn't one of the attributes that got Doctors listed in 100 Top Hospitals, an annual survey of 6,000 hospitals nationwide by the health care consulting company Solucient. Doctors is the first Augusta hospital to achieve the ranking, which provides primarily "bench marks" - target standards for other hospitals - by analyzing Medicare cost report data.
Much of the ranking is based on financial performance and efficiency, but Doctors officials argue it also reflects good care. Doctors reported a stunning 33 percent profit margin when depreciation and other factors were added in, more than 50 percent above even the bench mark.
"I'd have to say 1999 was an extremely good year for us," said Kelly W. Penton, vice president and chief financial officer for Doctors.
Part of that is a higher number of paying patients - or lack of indigent patients - in the hospital's burn unit, Mr. Penton said. Doctors, in fact, was fined $20,261 by the state Division of Health Planning for not meeting a 3 percent indigent care goal for its Columbia Plaza Surgery Center. The amount was the difference in what Doctors had committed to provide and what it actually provided, and the problem was a lack of doctors referring patients to the surgery center, said Doctors President and Chief Executive Officer Michael K. Kerner.
"We actually went out, with our physicians and other avenues, and tried to recruit people to bring patients in there to meet that commitment and it was hard to do," Mr. Kerner said. "Since that time, we've gotten on it from day one of each month. We honor our commitments."
Doctors might have also been hampered by a lack of documentation for the care it did provide, officials said.
Last year, the burn center saw a much higher number of indigent patients, Mr. Penton said. In fact, the high cost of the burn patients makes it all the more remarkable that Doctors got the high ranking it did, Mr. Kerner said.
The ranking and its bench marks are closely scrutinized within the industry but might be of less use to the average person choosing a hospital, said health care consultant Lew Yeouze of William M. Mercer Inc., one of the co-founders of the list, which began in 1993, but who is no long associated with it.
"It's certainly a feather in your cap to have made it," Mr. Yeouze said. "(But) this is more of a hospital executive guide or trustee guide than it would be a consumer guide."
Doctors officials, however, insist the listing can be both. It looks at death rates and complications in addition to financial performance and efficiency, Mr. Kerner said. One of the categories, length of stay, could also be seen as a sign of good care because if that number is low, it might show that there were fewer complications such as a hospital-acquired infection, Mr. Kerner said.
"We couldn't be efficient if our patients didn't get better and go home," he said.
Part of that is also having less expensive and less intensive care options available, such as the rehab unit where Mrs. Lovelace was treated recently.
After leaving a family jewelry store in Thomson, Mrs. Lovelace slipped on wet pavement and broke her left hip.
After two weeks of therapy three hours a day, she was ready to resume her life again, even if it meant struggling with everyday things such as dressing. Yet she was up for the challenge.
"I came in on a stretcher," Mrs. Lovelace said, "and I'm walking out."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.